By Beau Tallent
My first introduction to the world of custom-painted crankbaits came on the front deck of bass boat. On the trolling motor was a local tournament angler who was helping me with an article on the fall migration of baitfish and bass into the creeks from their deep-water summer hangouts. We both wanted a couple of nice bass for pictures, but as is typical for a day when a writer is in the boat, the fishing was tougher than expected.
Then the secret crankbait box came out. The crankbait bodies were the same as the store-bought, 5- to 7-foot-deep divers we’d been throwing, but the colors were nothing like I’d ever seen. The plug he tied on was a shade of green I recognized as a favorite on this particular Kentucky reservoir, but it had black and chartreuse tiger stripes that were unlike anything I’d even seen—so different I silently considered whether he was playing a practical joke on me.
Then he made his first cast on the same small rocky point we’d already fished thoroughly with off-the-shelf crankbaits and caught only one 10-inch dink. Three turns of the reel, and my partner’s rod bowed with the pressure of a 5-lb. bass that later became famous as the lead photo in a magazine article. What did not appear in that article was a picture of that weirdly painted crankbait. I was forbidden to show it. Custom-painted baits were making this guy too much money on the tournament trail.
Can the color of a crankbait make that much difference? Dang right it can. Not all the time, granted. There are days when bass are stacked on a roadbed and will eat a spark plug with a hook in it. It’s those other days—which are much more common—when fish are finicky for whatever reason, whether it’s fishing pressure or the barometer or a north wind or the fisherman not holding his mouth right. It’s those days when custom-painted baits are paying dividends for anglers.
And the secret is out. Go to the Internet and Google custom-painted baits. Do a search on eBay. Everybody and their brother seem to be in the business of selling custom-painted crankbaits, jerkbaits, swimbaits and topwater plugs. You can find any color imaginable, but before you randomly spend money on colors and patterns that look pretty, I’d recommend starting with the primary color that’s been productive on your home lake. I’m a strong believer that fish on certain lakes prefer certain colors. Why, I’ll never be able to explain or support with concrete data. But I’ve been around enough anglers who make a living fishing to believe that certain colors produce better on certain lakes. From that base color, and then it’s the open palette of possibilities that custom-painted baits offer that can improve your catch ratios.
Can’t find the color scheme you’re looking for? You might want to consider painting your own baits. Before you scoff and dismiss the idea, know that the equipment is not expensive. You also don’t have to be an artist, and you’ll likely have lots of fun creating patterns and color schemes that catch fish.
Jake Greenstein is the author of “How To Paint Custom Crankbaits,” a book for beginners showing how to get started with step-by-step color pictures to paint four different baits along with other information on painting your own baits. His company, Dakota Lakes Tackle, sells custom-painted baits but also has a focus on helping anglers learn to paint their own baits. Jake has made YouTube videos that quickly take you through the basics of painting your own baits.
“I grew up fishing for walleyes, perch and northern pike. I have great memories of fishing with my dad and grandpa through my adult years,” Jake said. “I got into fishing for largemouth bass about seven years ago when we moved to Fargo, North Dakota and had unlimited lakes within a short drive in Minnesota. I was instantly hooked on bass fishing.”
It was that newfound passion for bass fishing combined with idle time where Jake discovered custom painting.
“With our long North Dakota winters, I found myself dreaming of bass fishing and saw an article about lure building and painting on a website. I bought a cheap airbrush and a few different colors of paint. I started repainting old cranks and later found a place to buy unpainted crankbaits and started to paint them. After a couple years of stockpiling baits I painted, I started to sell them on eBay. A short time later I started dakotalakestackle.com to sell my custom painted baits. I now offer mostly unpainted baits on my website and help other people in the custom bait painting hobby with You Tube videos, a book and answering emails.
“I have painted baits for a few people that fish tournaments with good feedback. I have given away more baits than I can count to people I see at gas stations or on the lake. I always have baits in my pickup to give to people,” Jake said.
Like both tournament and weekend anglers, Jake has seen that a new look can make the difference when it comes to tempting fish.
“Custom painted crankbaits offer a different look to the fish on lakes that have a lot of pressure. Some people like certain color combinations that are either discontinued or have never been available. It is a very rewarding hobby. There is nothing like pulling in a fish on a bait that you painted,” he said.
“I started with an inexpensive airbrush and a few colors of paint. I used an air compressor that I already had and my wife’s hair dryer to set the paint. My total starting investment was around $50. Since I have been doing this for about seven years, I recommend to people starting out to spend a little more on an airbrush. You defiantly get what you pay for. I recommend the Iwata Revolution BR, which is about $100. Pick about five to eight colors of paint that they like or work well on the lakes they fish. Paint is about $4 a bottle and last a long time using a few drops at a time. You can start by repainting old baits at the bottom of your tackle box,” Jake said.
Jake’s You Tube videos are an excellent starting point if you think you might be interested in painting your own baits.
“Be careful. It is an addictive hobby,” he added.
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